Needing the Story More Than It Needs You, a guest post by Elana K. Arnold
Winter, 2020. Where were you?
I was on the couch in my living room, glued to CNN, tracking statistics about rising COVID numbers.
I was in the kitchen, scrubbing my groceries with antibacterial wipes, washing my hands so often that my skin cracked.
I was outside—occasionally—walking around the block, either wearing an n95 or crossing to the other side of the street if I saw a neighbor emerging from their house.
Perhaps you found yourself in similar places, doing similar things, feeling similar fears.
But then, a beautiful thing happened. Harriet Wermer spoke to me.
“My name is Harriet Wermer,” she said. “There are some things you should know about me before I tell you everything else. Let’s start with the worst things first.”
Oh, Harriet. Vibrant, immediate, full of big feelings. And on the move.
By the third chapter, Harriet was boarding a ferry to Marble Island, dragging along her cat Matzo Ball. Whether she liked it or not (she did not), she would be spending the summer at Nanu’s Bric-a-Brac Bed and Breakfast.
I was with her, face in the wind, the spray of saltwater, the unknowability of what lay ahead feeling not like a threat, but a promise. A promise of new experiences, growth, expansion, mystery, and adventure. Harriet wasn’t thrilled to be leaving home, but I sure was.
I’m a writer of all kinds of fiction, from picture books to really challenging YA. Sometimes, I’ve found myself feeling that I was working against my needs—sometimes because of deadlines, sometimes from a macabre desire to pick at my wounds. But during the early days of the pandemic, like so many of us, I became very aware of the things I needed that I would not get anytime soon, including hugging my siblings and their kids, being a person in the world outside my home, feeling a sense of reasonable security when I did go outside.
I wanted to take care of myself. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to explore. I wanted the gentle, loving-kind feeling that everything would be okay, even if things were messy, even if things were hard.
Did I think about JUST HARRIET this way, when Harriet spoke to me, loud and clear? Was I aware that falling into her world would feel like a balm? I did not. I was not. It wasn’t until I had some distance that I saw what maybe should have been clear: I was sending my character on an island vacation, and I got to tag along just when I needed it most.
Then, thinking about the “challenging YA” novels I’ve written, the ones that felt like wound picking, the ones that made me roar… these books, too, came to me when I needed them.
I think a lot about the unconscious mind, about my intuition that we know a lot more than we think we know. When I work with other writers, I encourage them not to say “no” to their ideas, not to self-flagellate, but instead to say, “Hmm. That’s so interesting, my impulse to explore x or y or z idea. I wonder why I’m drawn to that, and I’m excited to see where it will lead.”
Sometimes, our ideas lead us into challenging, complex, uncomfortable places that we must explore before we can understand them. Sometimes, our ideas lead us somewhere as interesting, bright, and fun as Marble Island. Wherever they lead, I say: Follow. You may need the story even more than it needs you.
And bring your cat along. That’s just good advice, no matter what.
Meet the author
Elana K. Arnold is the award-winning author of many books for children and teens, including the middle grade novels The Question of Miracles, Far from Fair, A Boy Called Bat, and The House That Wasn’t There as well as the YA novels Red Hood, the Michael L. Printz Honor book Damsel, and the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of. She holds a master’s degree in creative writing/fiction from the University of California, Davis, and is a member of the faculty in Hamline University’s MFA in writing for children and young adults program. Elana currently lives in Huntington Beach, CA, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. You can find her online at www.elanakarnold.com.
About Just Harriet
From the award-winning author of A Boy Called Bat comes a new young middle grade series in the tradition of Ramona and Clementine, starring an unforgettable girl named Harriet.
There are a few things you should know about Harriet Wermer:
- She just finished third grade.
- She has a perfect cat named Matzo Ball.
- She doesn’t always tell the truth.
- She is very happy to be spending summer vacation away from home and her mom and dad and all the wonderful things she had been planning all year.
Okay, maybe that last one isn’t entirely the truth.
Of course, there’s nothing Harriet doesn’t like about Marble Island, the small island off the coast of California where her nanu runs a cozy little bed and breakfast. And nobody doesn’t love Moneypenny, Nanu’s old basset hound. But Harriet doesn’t like the fact that Dad made this decision without even asking her.
When Harriet arrives on Marble Island, however, she discovers that it’s full of surprises, and even a mystery. One that seems to involve her Dad, back when he was a young boy living on Marble Island. One that Harriet is absolutely going to solve. And that’s the truth.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/01/2022
Age Range: 6 – 10 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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